Thank you to Alpha’s Jackie Marcus (MD) and our friends who helped us lead the top-rated panel of the conference (Jonathan Ho, William Blair; Mary Turnbull, Raymond James and Lisa Rubinger, Ashler Capital)


Strategic IR Programming More Important Than Ever as Wall Street Evolves

 

A few members from the Alpha team attended NIRI’s 2023 annual conference in Chicago last week. We had a wonderful time reconnecting with other industry leaders and clients, and a few of us had the opportunity to present our perspectives on key issues.  For those of you who haven’t gone to a NIRI event/conference, the National conference is must for anyone new to the field of Investor Relations.

We wanted to share a few key takeaways that we felt resonated with the current investment climate and offer some quick Alpha thoughts on what we heard.

Big Picture

  • The field of investor relations continues to rapidly shift and has become more and more complex as Wall Street continues to evolve.
  • The ongoing Wall Street transformation requires an even greater level of accountability, transparency and disclosure to separate your story from the rest and to get the attention of buy- and sell-siders who are more stretched than ever.
  • In-person investor meetings are back, and most of the sell-siders we heard from pushed that they are thinking “in-person first” as the buy-side continues to want one-to-one engagement.
  • Given Alpha’s decades of experience supporting in-house IR functions, we know firsthand how much more complex this discipline has become. The complexity now requires a level of experience and sophistication that’s very hard for companies to find/retain in-house, in particular for companies under $3B in market-cap.

Advocacy (NIRI Needs Our Support)

  • Our national trade organization continues to be very involved in D.C. and could use the support of all public companies.
  • This includes a 10-year campaign to change rules regulating proxy advisory firms, including maintaining the “advance review and comment” period. This also includes recommendations for the SEC to address “robo-voting” where investment managers can outsource their voting responsibilities without oversight.  We hope more is coming here.
  • NIRI also continues to advocate for 13D reform, something Alpha strongly agrees with, as do 80%+ of IR professionals surveyed. This would shorten the reporting period for investors that accumulate over 5% of any stock to five days versus 10 days and make ambush activism that much harder.
  • On a similar note, our profession continues to support updating short disclosures rules, and believes that confidential filings of aggregate short positions do not provide the transparency needed. NIRI has posted a comment letter on this topic and all of this activity can be found at niri.org.

ESG Thinking Today

  • We also attended several ESG-related panels, and while the spirit of sustainability continues to be a theme we actively support, we did sense a slowdown in activity from many of the companies we spoke to and currently support on ESG initiatives.
  • That said, we do not believe that ESG will simply go away, as numerous investors who were on panels noted their investment model continues to evaluate numerous risk factors related to ESG.
  • There was even some discussion about how various investors from the same firm can ask very different questions related to ESG issues, as this is often a portfolio-by-portfolio decision. For example, an analyst might ask short-term related ESG questions to access short-term risks, while a PM might focus on long-term reputational risks associated with ESG.
  • Those waiting for SEC guidance here may have to wait until early next year, as the SEC continues to evaluate the risk of litigation on anything they push forward.
  • Our advice continues to be consistent: Investors are still not your primary audience for ESG-related initiatives. You should be thinking about your communities, prospective and current employees, customers, and suppliers before your IR constituents. However, Wall Street is paid to evaluate risk, and ESG-related risks clearly remain on the minds of your investors, so you need to have some bare minimums on the ESG front for good corporate hygiene.

How to Avoid IR Becoming Obsolete

  • Jackie Marcus (MD) and Chris Hodges (CEO, Founder) helped drive one of the most well-attended events of the conference, which involved keeping your IR program relevant in today’s challenging markets. Kudos to Jackie for driving this panel, and thank you to our friends who joined us (Mary Turnbull, Corporate Access at Raymond James; Lisa Rubinger, Corporate Relations at Ashler Capital, and Jonathan Ho, Cybersecurity Analyst at William Blair). As you can see, we had a great diverse set of backgrounds which made for a great panel.
  • The foundational question here revolved around Wall Street’s ongoing transformation and how difficult it has become for some companies to garner Wall Street’s attention. In particular, it was noted that it’s become impossible to reach a buy-sider directly since COVID.
  • This isn’t just impacting small-caps, but any company that doesn’t fit neatly into Wall Street’s box needs to take more proactive control of their IR programs.
  • The panelists also offered advice for newer IROs to elevate their programs and again avoid the risk of obsolescence in a tricky economy. This included proactive ideas on keeping management/boards up to date on Wall Street’s pulse around both the stock and the industry in which you sit.
  • The Alpha team closed out with a lengthy discussion around the need for IROs to be their own advocates with their management teams and boards. This involved consistent education around the challenges associated with their programs, their goals and ultimately their annual scorecards.

Making the Sell Side Work for You

  • Lastly, Chris Hodges (CEO, Founder) also helped lead the top-rated panel of the conference, focused on getting better leverage out of your sell-side analysts.
  • Joining Chris for this panel were Jessica Schmidt from Etsy, Ed Yurma from Piper Sandler, Jeremy Cohen from Alight Solutions and long-time friend Martin Jarosick at CF Industries.
  • The panel highlighted that sell-side analysts are covering more companies than ever, with studies suggesting that the number of companies being covered has shifted from the low 20s to nearly 35 companies on average. This increase puts even more importance on IR teams to create a symbiotic relationship with these analysts, helping adjust models when needed (and allowed) and continuously educating them on new initiatives to assure the overarching strategies are understood. Simply put, the bandwidth of these analysts continues to shrink, and IR teams must focus on enhancing these relationships to avoid obsolescence.
  • Our team also made a strong case that corporates need to understand the give and take of Conference/NDR activity and that the sell-side may need you to take a few meetings with their largest clients in the hedge fund community. The Alpha team highlighted ways to group some meetings, and tricks you can use to maximize the impact of your time away from the business when your team is at various investor conferences.

In summary, NIRI National did not disappoint and served as a two-and-a-half-day discussion around every critical topic facing investor relations, ESG and broader corporate brand/reputation workstreams.  As you can see, our team had many thoughts and perspectives on these topics. If you have any questions on these thoughts, please feel free to reach out to Alpha and one of our leaders will be happy to brainstorm with you and your team.

Best,

The Alpha IR Leadership team

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